Although the National Institute of Mental Health says anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, helping you cope with difficult situations, excessive anxiety can become debilitating and interfere with your life. Similarly, although sadness is a natural emotion, when it is constant you may be depressed, a situation that may also interfere with your daily activities. L-tyrosine and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, are two compounds that may have a role in preventing anxiety or depression. Talk to your doctor about L-tyrosine and GABA to decide on a good course for your situation.
Anxiety and Depression
If you are constantly anxious, worrying about small problems or everyday situations, you may be showing signs of an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are five types of these disorders, each triggered by certain situations and potentially causing both mental and physical symptoms that may interfere with daily life. Depression, an unrelenting feeling of sadness, may also disrupt your life when it becomes constant. Women are more likely to develop depression than men, and the seriousness of the disorder can range from minor to very severe.
GABA is a natural chemical called a neurotransmitter, made by nerve cells, which modifies the behavior of these cells and allows them to communicate with each other. Its general effect is to lessen activity of nerve cells, inhibiting their excitation and generally lowering brain activity in nearby areas. Low levels of GABA have been identified in several psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and depression. In a review of findings about GABA and depression published in "Molecular Psychiatry" in 2011, researchers concluded that a deficit in GABA production is a cause of major depressive disorder, and that restoring these levels is likely to reverse the condition.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that your body can manufacture or obtain from food. It is a precursor to several neurotransmitters, including epinephrine or adrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine. Two of these compounds, epinephrine and norepinephrine, are commonly called stress hormones because your body releases them as part of the mechanism that helps you deal with stress. As a result, increasing your levels of L-tyrosine may help you cope with situations that might trigger anxiety. L-tyrosine may also have a role in helping you avoid depression, since the University of Maryland Medical Center indicates that tyrosine levels may be low in people with depression.
Tyrosine supplements are generally considered safe and without significant side effects, although you should not take them if you have migraines or hyperthyroidism, or if you take thyroid hormone or certain neurological medicines. Although GABA supplements are available commercially, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center indicates that orally consumed GABA does not affect brain levels of GABA since the ingested molecule cannot cross the blood brain barrier. However, you may increase your GABA levels by taking vitamin B-6, or pyridoxal phosphate, since this is a required co-factor for GABA production, or by consuming the amino acid glutamate, which you body converts into GABA. Talk to your doctor about both tyrosine and GABA to decide whether you should add L-tyrosine or one or more of GABA-active supplements to your regimen. Don't self-treat with supplements, especially if you have other health conditions or take prescription medicines, because of the possibility of interactions.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tyrosine
- Virginia Commonwealth University Continuing Medical Education: The Role of GABA in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Anxiety and Other Psychiatric Disorders
- "Molecular Psychiatry"; The GABAergic Deficity Hypothesis of Major Depressive Disorder; B. Luscher, et al.; April 2011
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: GABA